‘I feel like I have been given a new life and my tournament is starting all over again’
By ALAN THATCHER, SEAN REUTHE and CHRIS McCLINTICK
Karim Abdel Gawad admitted it felt like he was “given another life” after his second round opponent Joel Makin conceded after twisting his ankle while leading by two games to love in the 2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions. Facing a difficult challenge in the next round against fellow Egyptian Fares Dessouky, Gawad said it was like “starting the tournament all over again” after winning an epic battle lasting 86 minutes.
On the fourth day of action in this PSA Platinum event, the women arrived at Grand Central Terminal and the top seeds in both draws stuck to the schedule in a timetable that ought to be copied by the incompetent railway companies in the UK.
All 12 matches went the way of the higher-ranked player, led by the world number ones Raneem El Welily and Mohamed ElShorbagy.
While Britain’s railway franchises struggle to get their trains running on time, Egypt’s well-oiled squash industry is delivering a system that runs like clockwork.
Each year, new players emerge from the junior ranks to swell the number of professionals battling for recognition, for prize money, ranking points and sponsorship, for funding and favour.
So battles like this one between Gawad and Dessouky, enacted thousands of miles from home, take on an added significance.
With the temperature poised to drop to minus eight in New York on Monday, these two produced some red-hot squash, with 2017 ToC champion Gawad finally overcoming Dessouky, who has just returned to the tour after a lengthy injury hiatus. Dominance flowed one way then the other before Gawad, the No.8 seed, finished strongly to triumph 8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 10-12, 11-4.
“He had ACL surgery in September and now he’s coming back really strong,” Gawad said afterwards. “He’s always been a very good player, but now he’s even better. He’s a fighter on court and I have a lot of respect for him. He didn’t come back too quickly, he came back when he was ready to be on court.
“When we’re out for a month or two, we struggle. Last season, I was on court and playing but I wasn’t doing really well. To come back after ACL surgery and to play such good squash in this tournament and the one before is unbelievable.”
Gawad advanced to the round of 16 due to an ankle injury sustained by rising Welsh star Makin, who was two games up against the Egyptian at the time of the injury.
Gawad added: “In that match, I felt like I wasn’t ready to be in this tournament and I felt like I wasn’t feeling the ball on the racket.
“I was moving badly, I was playing bad squash, but I think that [the injury to Makin] gave me another life. It made me feel like I’m playing another tournament and it’s another first round here at the ToC. I’m really happy with my performance against Fares. We always play really tough matches.”
Women’s top seed El Welily is appearing in her first PSA Tour event since overtaking fellow Egyptian Nour El Sherbini at the summit of the PSA Women’s World Rankings at the beginning of December. The 30-year-old kickstarted her title challenge with a resounding 11-4, 11-5, 11-6 victory over World No.23 Mariam Metwally in the second round of the women’s event.
“When I got to No.1, I was just trying to enjoy myself on court and to do my best in every single game,” said El Welily
“To stay in the same form, I have to do the same things that got me to No.1, so I am still trying to enjoy it as much as possible.
“It is definitely good to be back in New York at Grand Central Station. It is one of my favourite tournaments all year, and I am just happy to be through to the next round.”
India’s Joshna Chinappa stands in El Welily’s way in the next round after the World No.14 got the better of Belgium’s Tinne Gilis in straight games.
The 2017 women’s champion Camille Serme also got her tournament under way as she claimed an 11-7, 12-10, 11-6 win over World No.36 Milou van der Heijden in 30 minutes.
The World No.5. who two years ago became the first Frenchwoman ever to win this tournament, will go up against England’s Victoria Lust for a place in the quarter-finals after the No.13 seed toppled Hong Kong’s Liu Tsz-Ling.
“When I came on the court for the warm-up, I was like a child,” said Serme.
“I was excited and happy to be back here. I love playing in Grand Central station, it’s my favourite tournament and I just want to keep playing here.”
World No.4 Joelle King also claimed a victory on day four as she defeated Zeina Mickawy in four games, and she will play 2014 champion Nicol David in a mouthwatering third round fixture. Eight-time World Champion David dispatched current World Junior Champion Rowan Elaraby by a 3-0 margin.
David said: “I haven’t played her before and I haven’t really seen her play, but I knew she was a World Junior Champion and that she is a fighter. “She was really gutsy out there. She is 18 years old, that was my age when I started on tour, and she wasn’t even born yet! It is really a thrill to be here in Grand Central, with equal prize money. It is an amazing event and we really are thrilled to be here.”
David, King or Serme could face El Welily in the draw’s top half semi-final. David added: “Watching Joelle before, she was saying that the experience takes over and I knew if I put my gameplay together a little bit better just to put the pressure on, it might falter.
“I was just keeping to my game plan and keeping focused and I was really pleased with my match today. I think it is going to be a great match. I am really excited to play Joelle. We have good battles and it is going to be fun.”
World No.8 Nouran Gohar and World No.12 Annie Au were the other victors on day four as they axed Malaysia’s Low Wee Wern and Hong Kong’s Joey Chan, respectively.
In the top half of the men’s third round, ElShorbagy and defending champion Simon Rösner advancing to the quarter-finals after respective triumphs against Egypt’s Zahed Salem and Max Lee of Hong Kong.
ElShorbagy’s 11-2, 12-10, 11-9 win over Salem will see him line up against World No.11 Diego Elias in the last eight. Elias dispatched Australia’s Cameron Pilley and will look to replicate the form that saw him upset ElShorbagy in November’s Qatar Classic.
“Diego has been playing well this season,” ElShorbagy said afterwards. “We played once this season in Qatar where he got the better of me for the first time. He is someone who is going to keep me playing for so many years to come. There is no doubt he is a future No.1 and future world champion.”
Meanwhile, Rösner will clash with World No.5 Gawad as he bids to keep alive his love affair with The Big Apple.
Rösner said: “I love Grand Central, I love New York and I love playing on this glass court.
“Hopefully I can get another win, but no matter how I go I am just enjoying being out here.”
The second round of the women’s event and the third round of the men’s continues today (Sunday January 20). Play will get under way at Grand Central Terminal at 12 noon (GMT-5) and will be shown live on SQUASHTV (rest of world) and Eurosport Player (Europe only).
2019 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA.
Men’s Third Round (Top Half):
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) bt Zahed Salem (EGY) 3-0: 11-2, 12-10, 11-9 (39m)
Diego Elias (PER) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS) 3-1: 11-9, 11-8, 5-11, 11-7 (55m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Fares Dessouky (EGY) 3-2: 8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 10-12, 11-4 (86m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt Max Lee (HKG) 3-0: 11-9, 11-8, 11-7 (48m)
Men’s Third Round (Bottom Half) To Be Played January 20:
 Tarek Momen (EGY) v Gregoire Marche (FRA)
Greg Lobban (SCO) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)
 Paul Coll (NZL) v Saura Ghosal (IND)
Daryl Selby (ENG) v  Ali Faraf (EGY)
Men’s Quarter-Finals (Top Half) To Be Played January 21:
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v Diego Elias (PER)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
Women’s Second Round (Top Half):
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt Mariam Metwally (EGY) 3-0: 11-4, 11-5, 11-6 (20m)
 Joshna Chinappa (IND) bt Tinne Gilis (BEL) 3-0: 11-8, 11-8, 13-11 (37m)
 Annie Au (HKG) bt Joey Chan (HKG) 3-0: 11-5, 11-9, 12-10 (29m)
 Nouran Gohar (EGY) bt Low Wee Wern (MAS) 3-1: 11-4, 11-5, 5-11, 11-6 (39m)
 Camille Serme (FRA) bt Milou van der Heijden (NED) 3-0: 11-7, 12-10, 11-6 (30m)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) bt Liu Tsz-Ling (HKG) 3-0: 16-14, 11-8, 11-8 (30m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt Rowan Elaraby (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-7, 13-11 (33m)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt Zeina Mickawy (EGY) 3-1: 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-1 (39m)
Women’s Second Round (Bottom Half) To Be Played January 20:
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v Lisa Aitken (SCO)
Danielle Letourneau (CAN) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
 Alison Waters (ENG) v Emily Whitlock (ENG)
Millie Tomlinson (ENG) v  Tesni Evans (WAL)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) v Yathreb Adel (EGY)
Sivasangari Subramaniam (MAS) v  Salma Hany (EGY)
 Olivia Blatchford Clyne (USA) v Nele Gilis (BEL)
Hania El Hammamy (EGY) v  Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
Women’s Third Round (Top Half) To Be Played January 21:
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Annie Au (HKG) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Victoria Lust (ENG)
 Nicol David (MAS) v  Joelle King (NZL)
Pictures courtesy of PSA